Nielsen v. Hefferon

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Nielsen v. Hefferon. Filed November 4, 1999 IN THE UTAH COURT OF APPEALS

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Vickie M. Nielsen,
Appellant,

v.

Estate of Mary Jane Hefferon,
Appellee.

MEMORANDUM DECISION
(Not For Official Publication)

Case No. 981711-CA

F I L E D
November 4, 1999
  1999 UT App 317

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Third District, Salt Lake Department
The Honorable William A. Thorne

Attorneys:
Paul M. Halliday, Jr., Paul M. Halliday, and Joseph W. Rohan, Salt Lake City, for Appellant
Lynn S. Davies, Salt Lake City, for Appellee

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Before Judges Greenwood, Bench, and Billings.

BILLINGS, Judge:

Plaintiff Vickie M. Nielsen appeals the denial of her motion to amend her complaint and the grant of summary judgment in favor of defendant. We reverse.

A party may amend a pleading by leave of the court, "and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires." Utah R. Civ. P. 15(a). "Leave to amend a pleading is a matter within the broad discretion of the trial court and we do not disturb its ruling unless appellant establishes an abuse of discretion resulting in prejudice." Chadwick v. Nielsen, 763 P.2d 817, 820 (Utah Ct. App. 1988). In reviewing a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to amend, we consider the timeliness of the motion, the justification for delay, and the resulting prejudice to the responding party. See Swift Stop, Inc. v. Wight, 845 P.2d 250, 253 (Utah Ct. App. 1992). Although motions raised late during litigation are disfavored, a motion to amend raised in response to facts discovered after a prior pleading "should be allowed if there is a reasonable explanation for the delay in discovering the facts and the amendment is not unduly prejudicial to the opposing party." Chadwick, 763 P.2d at 820.

The trial court made no findings regarding the denial of plaintiff's motion to amend, and the record before us does not disclose why the trial court denied plaintiff's motion. Although plaintiff's motion came long after this litigation commenced, plaintiff's delay is reasonably explained because defendant did not produce its purported original release--which precipitated plaintiff's new claims--until three years after this litigation commenced.

Additionally, the record reflects no failure by plaintiff to conduct discovery that would have resulted in the timely production of the release. Cf. Chadwick, 763 P.2d at 820 ("An untimely motion to amend is inappropriate where the only excuse for its untimeliness is the moving party's failure to conduct discovery."). Defendant's Answer to plaintiff's Complaint, as well as the discovery pursued by defendant, focused on the cause, nature, and extent of plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff had no reason to believe that the defendant would rely on a purported release.

Finally, whatever prejudice, if any, defendant may suffer from plaintiff amending her complaint is self-inflicted in that defendant had the capacity to produce the release earlier. We therefore hold that the trial court abused its discretion by denying plaintiff's motion to amend.

We likewise conclude that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and . . . the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Utah R. Civ. P. 56(c). Because plaintiff's affidavits and proposed amended pleadings raise genuine issues of material fact bearing on fraudulent inducement and alteration of the release, summary judgment for defendant was inappropriate.

The trial court concluded that the best evidence and parol evidence rules prevented consideration of extrinsic evidence to determine the parties' intent and the scope and content of their agreement. We disagree.

The best evidence rule provides that the original writing is required to prove the content of such writing. See Utah R. Evid. 1002; see also Utah Code Ann. § 78-25-16 (1996) ("There can be no other evidence of the contents of a writing, other than the writing itself, except in the following cases . . . ."). The trial court erred by relying on these provisions in that plaintiff does not dispute the content of the release produced by defendant. Rather, plaintiff claims that defendant either fraudulently induced her into signing the release or fraudulently altered the release. The best evidence rule has no application to the admissibility of plaintiff's evidence supporting these claims.

In the absence of fraud or other invalidating circumstance, the parol evidence rule excludes evidence of contemporaneous agreements that contradict the terms of an integrated, unambiguous written contract. See, e.g., Hall v. Process Instruments & Control, Inc., 890 P.2d 1024, 1026 (Utah 1995). However, "before considering the applicability of the parol evidence rule . . . , the court must first determine that the parties intended the writing to be an integration. To resolve this question of fact, any relevant evidence is admissible." Id. (emphasis added, citations omitted).

Plaintiff's affidavits and motion to amend her complaint raise the issue of whether the release reflected the parties' intended agreement. Thus the trial court erroneously excluded plaintiff's parol evidence. See Union Bank v. Swenson, 707 P.2d 663, 665-66 (Utah 1985).

Moreover, "[p]arol evidence is admissible to prove that a party was induced into a contract by fraud, despite a determination that a writing is an integrated contract." Id. at 666. Plaintiff's affidavits are thus admissible to show fraudulent inducement and alteration and, along with the proposed amendment to her complaint, raised genuine issues of material fact concerning those claims. See id. Because summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, defendant was not entitled to summary judgment.

We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this decision.
 
 

______________________________
Judith M. Billings, Judge

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WE CONCUR:
 
 

______________________________
Pamela T. Greenwood,
Associate Presiding Judge
 
 

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Russell W. Bench, Judge